EAC must surely be relieved with Tanzania having ratified AfCFTA

14Sep 2021
The Guardian
EAC must surely be relieved with Tanzania having ratified AfCFTA

TOP officials of the East African Community (EAC) were having one of their best weekends in years as Tanzanian legislators came together to debate – and then ratify – the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).

EAC Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki said in a statement that adopting and rapidly starting to implement the pact would ease the work of the community itself, as it blends especially well with the East African Common Market projection.

It has been dogged for years by inter-state competition, even bad blood. Some of that is being resolved lately but having the partner states ratifying a law superior to their own is reassuring, since no partner state will have a veto on AfCFTA content, or change details afterwards.

Dr Mathuki was of the view that East Africans will access a large continental market and increase the regional bloc’s exports to African countries beyond it, which is easy to figure out but not easy to accede to, as could also have been said of the common market itself.

He accordingly also praised Burundi, which ratified AfCFTA on June 17 and a slightly belated three-month hiatus was needed before Tanzania followed suit last Thursday.

Highlighting these advantages, the EAC said adhesion to the pact will significantly uplift the movement of people across Africa, advance trade and development aspirations and ultimately put the region in a better position to trade more with the rest of the world.

It is true but, to be honest, not evidently the most substantive factor in this context.

The real impact of AfCFTA when universally adopted by African countries is that it makes trade rules predictable, and to which one can easily fit investment rules.

African people have suffered for decades on end by economic lockdowns engineered and even ordered by radical governments espousing an ideology of liberation.

The impact here is that, as years go by, others get richer across the world and we stagnate – or even get all the poorer.

The most crucial issue was to restrict the flow of goods into local markets, so that producers in whom government has a stake may prosper. The debate on the pros and cons of all this can’t be finished on paper, but by such agreements.

What the EAC is doing at the moment is to harmonise the regional bloc’s trading rules and institutions with what is envisaged in AfCFTA.

In this case, the EAC Secretariat has initiated a number of steps towards implementing AfCFTA terms, where ratification by Burundi and Tanzania expedites the feasibility of the initiative, that is, the implementation of the agreement.

Only South Sudan is yet to ratify the pact, which it has already signed. This means that EAC working groups can prepare tariff offers which conform to AfCFTA modalities in addition to schedules of liberalising trade in services. This was on the cards but it can now move forward.

Other spheres of integration efforts are visibly being boosted by adherence to AfCFTA by the quasi-totality of the membership, and in a manner that looks like it is irreversible – and not subject to restoration of local prerogatives as in Tanzania’s withdrawal from COMESA.

COMESA, the acronym for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, is a regional economic community with member states stretching from Tunisia to Eswatini. It was formed in December 1994, replacing a preferential trade area which had existed since 1981.

The EAC Secretariat can thus comfortably prepare a draft strategy for the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement, which takes into account the need for capacity building.

Dr Mathuki says this is under consideration by the EAC partner states. However, without ratification, operationalisation or implementation will stall. That was always the case when integration touches on prerogatives of regulatory authorities – and who would benefit from such a scenario?

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